Liberal national-religious rabbis defend Rabbi Eliezer Melamed against IDF ban

In November last year, Melamed, during a lecture to IDF officers, said that if there was a contradiction between a military order and Jewish law “Jewish law overrides.”

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March 14, 2016 17:35
2 minute read.
Haredi soldier

Haredi soldier. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

 
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Several liberal-leaning national-religious rabbis have criticized Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon for prohibiting cooperation between the Association of Hesder Yeshivot and Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, a highly regarded rabbi in the sector.

Melamed is the municipal chief rabbi of the Har Bracha settlement in the Shomron Regional Council and the founder and former dean of the town’s hesder yeshiva.

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The hesder program combines three-and-a-half years of religious study in yeshiva with 17 months of IDF service for national-religious soldiers.

During a November lecture, Melamed told IDF officers if there was a contradiction between a military order and Jewish law, “Jewish law overrides.” He explained that this was not the case regarding security orders, but regarding orders such as to evacuate a settlement.

In a letter sent in December to heads of the Association of Hesder Yeshivot, made public last week by Makor Rishon, Haim Blumenthal – Ya’alon’s chief of staff – wrote that Melamed had made “extremist comments again.”

Blumenthal noted that studies in hesder yeshivot need to be conducted “while preserving the values of IDF service.” He instructed leaders of hesder yeshivot not to cooperate with Melamed or involve him in any programs “so that he will be prevented from spreading his teachings regarding the topics mentioned earlier among hesder students.”

“The defense minister views comments undermining the IDF’s values and calls for refusing orders with great severity,” Blumenthal wrote.

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“The defense minister views lectures, whether by Rabbi Melamed or others, that promote selectively obeying orders as contradicting the basic values of the IDF and the principles of the hesder framework.”

Rabbi Aviah Hacohen, a teacher in the Tekoa Hesder Yeshiva who has spoken out against Jewish extremism, issued a public letter to Ya’alon, calling the ban against Melamed an act of “pyromania.”

“It is forbidden for soldiers to disobey orders for events such as the evacuation of settlements and I totally disagree with Rabbi Melamed... who is one of the leaders who understands that we are all in the same pot, that we need to be considerate of all components of Israeli society,” said Hacohen.

Nevertheless, he said, “I see Rabbi Melamed as a spiritual leader with great abilities of leadership and to bring calm which Israeli society will need.”

Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth, a former director of the Beit Hillel association of national- religious rabbis, also decried the decision against Melamed, who he called “a spiritual leader of courage and intellectual integrity.”

“It is outrageous that the army is boycotting someone who was head of an important yeshiva which encourages boys to serve in the army and to give up their lives for the state, simply because of his positions in Jewish law,” wrote Neuwirth on his Facebook page. “Even though I totally oppose encouraging refusing orders in the IDF on a religious basis, the path of shutting people’s mouths is a blatant violation of the principles of democracy.”

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